The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe, London. September 2016.I'm used to walking into the candlelit Wanamaker Playhouse and being transported back to the early 1600s, thus is was a bit of a shock to walk in and find that there was 1960s pop music playing and the stage was set for an intimate music gig complete with electric lights. I confess my heart sank, after the recent reworking of Dr Faustus a 'concept' play seemed doomed to disappoint me.
From the very first moment however I was captivated. It was a very clever idea to bring an awkward play to life. We started in repressed Verona with a young cast all in modest, drab clothes - a place that the swinging sixties certainly hadn't reached. As they leave for Milan colour and life comes into the world and the music becomes far more upbeat. After the interval we've left Milan and are with the outlaws and now the costumes and music show this by being very 'hippy.' The music had my toes tapping throughout and this was before the audience was encouraged to join in.
The plot of Two Gents is somewhat slight. Valentine and his best friend Proteus live in Milan, Valentine leaves for Milan but Proteus stays behind with his true love Julia. Proteus' father sends him on to Milan as well where he finds his friend has fallen in love with Sylvia. All so simple, however Proteus falls in love with Sylvia too and goes out of his way to wreck the budding relationship - this all goes far too far as he tries to rape Sylvia before she is rescued by Valentine and Julia (disguised as a boy trying to discover what has become of her lover).
Even more uncomfortable than this is the way the 'boys' just decide the futures of the girls - fair enough that Valentine and Sylvia remain as a couple but the assumption that Julia will want Proteus again after his actions is incredible.
This production handled this nicely as after the boys have said their piece Sylvia and Julia take to the microphones and sing a lament - it is obvious that they are not accepting of the decisions made on their behalf.
The modernising of the play in setting worked for me entirely because Shakespeare's words had been kept (in fact lines from other plays had been added to one scene to huge comic effect!)and because his plots are universal I believed the story worked brilliantly with a sixties setting.
The cast of 9 were all incredibly talented actors and musicians and the comic character was reined in to maximum effect, and the staging of Crab the dog was very funny. A plot so simple could easily have been tinkered with far too much but in keeping everything as the original except the era it felt fresh and different, everything that updating of Dr Faustus failed to be!
I'm finding it hard to express my love for this show, for me it just really resonated, it started as a touring production and I really hope that tours next year so I can catch it again!